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Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2


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Such was the helpless condition to which the country was reduced that no terms were thought too burdensome to rid it< of the invaders, to whom 48,000 were ultimately paid on condition that they quitted England, which they did, taking with them an enormous amount of booty.

But scarcely had they ratified this treaty, when Sweyn entered the Humber with a powerful fleet, and threatened the whole kingdom with desolation and ruin. As this prince found the country unprovided with troops, and unable to defend itself, he quickly became master of Northumbria and East Anglia. But these conquests not satisfying his ambition, he took hostages of all the principal towns, and leaving his son Canute to command the newly-conquered counties, he advanced southward, and on a sudden laid siege to London, where Ethelred was shut up. Though he was but ill provided with necessaries to besiege in form a place of such importance, he imagined the citizens would be terrified at his menaces; but finding they were not moved by them, he desisted from his enterprise, and passed on and ravaged the western parts of Wessex, where he found no opposition to his arms. However, as he could not be satisfied whilst London was out of his power, he resolved to besiege it once more; but whilst he was preparing for the siege with greater precaution than before, he had information of Ethelred's departure from thence. This unfortunate prince, ever dreading to fall into the hands of an enemy he had so cruelly injured, and perceiving himself unsafe in England, retired into Normandy with all his family; upon which the Londoners resolved to submit to the King of Denmark, to whom all the rest of the kingdom was now subject; and shortly after this Sweyn was proclaimed King of England without any opposition, no one in the kingdom daring to dispute his title.

It does not appear that Sweyn was ever crowned. His first act of sovereignty was to levy a heavy tax to pay his Danish troops, by whose assistance he had conquered England. At all events, his reign was brief; some writers say that he was poisoned, other writers that he died of a cold: the monkish historians pretend that he was killed by a St. Edmund, formerly King of East Anglia, with a lance, in order to save the town and monastery in which his canonised bones lay from being plundered by the invaders.

On the death of Sweyn, Canute, his son, was proclaimed king; but their common danger had given something like energy and combination to the councils of the English. They recalled Ethelred from his exile in Normandy, and pledged themselves to support him on the throne against the Danes, whose government was arbitrary, cruel, and oppressive.

Ethelred at first was unwilling to trust to their promises, being apprehensive of a design to deliver him into the hands of his enemies; but being encouraged by the reception his son met with, whom he had sent before to sound the people's inclinations, he returned to England, and was received with great demonstrations of joy; and his subjects swore allegiance to him again, as if he had begun a new reign, his flight being considered as a sort of abdication of the crown. He, on his part, promised to reform whatever was amiss; and the eagerness of the English to throw off a foreign yoke, made them nock to the king with such zeal and haste, that he soon found himself at the head of a powerful army. His first expedition plainly showed his misfortunes had made no great alteration in him; for instead of marching against the Danes, he made use of his forces to be revenged on the men of Lindsey - one of the three divisions of Lincolnshire; the other two being named Holland and Kesteven, The inhabitants of the first-named place, it appeared, had provided the Danes with horses, and had also offered to join them.

After Ethelred had punished these traitors, he prepared to march, and fight the enemy, who little expected so sudden a revolution.

Although Canute was undoubtedly a great prince, and had the same forces his father Sweyn had conquered England with, he did not think fit to hazard a battle; but, on the contrary, before Ethelred was advanced near enough to oblige him to fight, he led his troops to the sea-side, and embarking them, set sail for Denmark. Before his departure, he ordered the hands and feet of the hostages he had in his power to be cut off, leaving them thus mangled on the shore.

The retreat of Canute appears strange, as he had never been worsted, and, besides, had many strong places still in his hands; and the only clue that can be obtained as to the cause of this conduct is the account given by the Danish writers, who say that Canute had a younger brother, named Harold, who, being regent in the absence of his father, Sweyn, seized upon Denmark for himself, which obliged Canute to leave England with a precipitation that seemed to be an effect of fear rather than sound policy.

As soon as Ethelred found himself freed from the Danes he took no heed of his promise to his subjects, but, on the contrary, resumed his old maxims, and imposed, on several pretences, excessive taxes, which raised great murmurings among the nobles and people.

To these causes for public discontent he added others of a more private nature, which destroyed all the hopes entertained of his amendment. Morcard and Sifforth, lords of Danish extraction, who had all along firmly adhered to the interest of the king and their new country, were sacrificed to his avarice. To draw these two earls into his power, the king convened a great council at Oxford, where he caused them to be murdered, and then seized their estates, as if they had been condemned by the common forms of justice. Algitha, widow of Sifforth, was shut up in a monastery, to which confinement she was indebted for her after greatness; for Edmund, the king's eldest son, passing that way some time after, was desirous to see one so renowned for her beauty, and fell so desperately in love with her, that he married her, even against his father's consent.

The calm England enjoyed after the retreat of the Danes lasted but one year. Canute having got possession of the throne of Denmark, immediately re-embarked for England (a.d. 1015), and, when least expected, landed a numerous army at Sandwich. Ethelred being then unwell, Edmund, his son, with Streon, Duke of Mercia, his son-in-law, had the command of the army against the Danes; and Edmund soon perceived his brother-in-law was a friend to Canute. This discovery obliged him to invent some pretence to divide the army into two bodies, that he might be separated from him, not daring to punish the traitor, for fear of exciting a revolt in Mercia, where Streon's power was exceedingly great. He also dreaded his father's displeasure, whom he knew could never be convinced that Streon held intelligence with the Danes. Canute, taking advantage of this division of the English forces, made large conquests immediately; and the treacherous Edric, who had joined Edmund with no other view but to betray him, finding he had lost his aim, openly declared for Canute; and this would have been rather an advantage than a detriment to the king's affairs, if the traitor had not carried with him a considerable body of troops, with forty ships of war. This desertion, which proved very serviceable to Canute, was a mortal wound to Ethelred; and the people went over in crowds to the Danes in proportion as the king's affairs fell to decay, so that even Wessex itself was not very secure.

Canute's expectations daily increasing by these successes, he turned his arms against those of the Mercians who continued in their alliance to the king, and at length, with the assistance of Streon, entirely subdued them. After which he formed a design to attack Ethelred in Wessex itself, where he had the more reason to expect success, as Edric had artfully instilled into the Mercians who were in the English army a notion that it was a sin to bear arms against a prince in possession of their country; and, consequently, all that Edmund could obtain of these troops was, that they would follow the king when he commanded the army in person, refusing to fight under any other general. But Ethelred, who was haunted by a suspicion of an intention of delivering him to the Danes, obstinately refused to quit London, and his gallant son had the mortification o seeing his forces disbanded without giving battle.

Meanwhile Canute pursued his career of conquest.

Edmund repaired himself to London, and persuaded the king to visit the army. He did so, but remained a very short time; after which his son joined Uthred, Earl of Northumberland, in ravaging those parts of the kingdom leagued with, or under the government of the Danes.

At this crisis the weak, worn-out monarch fell sick and died (April 23, a.d. 1016), leaving a numerous issue.

He had by his first wife, Elgiva, Edmund, who succeeded him; Athelstan, who died in childhood; Edwy, afterwards murdered by Canute; and three daughters.

Edgiva, the eldest, was married to an English earl, who fell in battle.

Edgith, the second, who espoused the traitor Edric, Duke of Mercia.

Edgina, the youngest, the wife of Uthred, Earl of Northumberland.

By Emma, the Pearl of Normandy, his second queen, Ethelred left two sons, Alfred and Edward, and a daughter named Godda, who first married Walter, the Earl of Nantes, and then Eustacius, Earl of Boulogne.

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Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2

King Sweyn.
King Sweyn. >>>>
Danish Arms and Armour.
Danish Arms and Armour. >>>>

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